Monday, November 23, 2015

Whisky Review: Prime Malt Dailuaine 10 Year

Prime Malt is brand of the independent bottler Gordon Bonding Co, which may have some connection to Duncan Taylor. Whatever the provenance, they released a number of very reasonably priced single malts during the early-2000s that never seem to have grabbed much attention. The plain labels, relatively low bottling proof, and complete lack of name recognition might have something to do with that. But a few are still available and still cheap. I was able to pick up this bottle from Binny's during my last order before they stopped shipping.

Dailuaine is a distillery that I have not had too much experience with, which is unsurprising as very little of its output is bottled as single malt. It's another distillery in Diageo's vast stable that exists primarily to provide stock for its blends. However, I have been able to sample an old SMWS Dailuaine that was very, very good and I have nominally tried it as part of Compass Box's Oak Cross blended malt. But, as I said, very limited experience. This particular bottle gives very little information, stating only that it was aged in 'oak casks', which likely means a refill ex-bourbon hogshead, since that's usually the default in these cases. Either way, it's bottled at 43%, likely without coloring given the pale hue and possibly without chill filtration since I can see some sediment if I give the bottle a shake.

Prime Malt Dailuaine 10 Year

Nose: lots of clean fresh malt, light notes of apple and pear, orange peel, a touch of vanilla, some floral character, a little musky or oily. After adding a few drops of water, the malt character shifts into a grainier mode, but is otherwise largely unchanged.

Taste: clean malt up front with mild sweetness, gentle floral, apple/pear, grape, orange peel, and berry notes appear around the middle, light oak at the back. After dilution, the sweet malt becomes thicker, somewhat washing out the berry notes in the middle.

Finish: clean malt sweetness, very mild oak, fruit and berry esters, biscuit-y, light but lingering floral notes

This is an uncomplicated but enjoyable single malt. Nothing fancy, but nothing wrong. Surprising for its age, it does gain a bit more depth and complexity after sitting in the glass for a while, but even that has its limits. I'd also skip the water, since that seems to rob it of whatever complexity it has in favor of straight-forward malt.

Good, clean spirit appears to have been filled into casks with just enough extractives left to rub off any rough edges without imparting too much wood character. The bottling strength is just enough to give it a bit of weight without too much alcohol heat, making it for me better than many entry-level malts that are simply too tepid at 40%. The closest easily available whisky like this would be Glenmorangie Original, though that is more oak-heavy given Bill Lumsden's well-known focus on casks. And as with all Prime Malt releases in the US, the price is right, especially in the current climate - this is under $40 and would be my pick over any number of comparably priced single malts from Glenfiddich or Glenlivet. While there are only a few stores with this left, if you happen to run into it, I would highly recommend grabbing a bottle.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Whisky Review: Benriach Septendecim

Septendecim (a somewhat uncreative choice as it means 17 in Latin) was first released in 2012 and hit the American market last year. It rounds out their peated lineup, squarely in between the entry-level Curiositas 10 Year and the recently upgraded Authenticus from 21 to 25 years old.

Like the 10 and 25 year expression, Septendecim is aged entirely in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 46% without coloring or chill filtration.

Thanks to Dave McEldowney of PDXWhisky for letting me sample this one.

Benriach Septendecim

Nose: mossy/smokey peat, organic/farm-y, vanilla, bubblegum, berries, grape/purple, oak, malt, fresh hay, smoked ham/fish, salty, freshly tanned leather. After adding a few drops of water it becomes softer, the peat becomes more mossy with the smoke holding on underneath, the oak and farm-y notes retreat and integrate, unripe apples and pears emerge, and there's a touch of anise.

Taste: sweet fresh malt up with fruit/berry overtones and hay in the background, slides towards building (but ultimately restrained) oak tannins, dirty vanilla, a hint of citrus on top, organic/farm notes, and mossy peat smoke at the back. After dilution, the peat becomes softer and spreads across the palate, showing up right after the initial sweet malt, the fruit and berry notes are pushed to the back, and the vanilla integrates with the malt.

Finish: sweet peat smoke, moderate oak, earthy, vanilla, whipped cream

One of the main things that holds me back from recommending Benriach's peated malts in a full-throated fashion is the fact that they almost universally seem to have very heavy oak influence. While the bitter tannins sometimes complement the sharp peat smoke, they can also throw the experience out of balance. Despite being 50% older than most of the peated Benriach I've tried before, Septendecim manages to achieve a far better balance, with the oak being a component, but not overwhelming the other elements. It also manages to be significantly better than the 19 year old single cask bottled for K&L that I recently tried.

While there are significant differences between the two, this reminds me a lot of Laphroaig 18 Year, with the same heavy vanilla component balanced with sweetness, oak, and peat. However, I like the Benriach better because the vanilla is less heavy-handed and it's not quite as sweet. Whatever the reason, Septendecim really hits the mark for me. As a bonus, it's quite reasonably priced, running under $90 in most parts of the States. Given steadily rising prices for older single malts, it's nice to see an independently owned company providing quality whisky at a solid price.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Whisky Review: Benriach 19 Year 1994/2014 for K&L

K&L is one of the few retailers in the US with a prolific single cask program. As part of that, they've been able to source casks directly from Benriach and its sister distillery Glendronach that were bottled by their respective distilleries rather than going through independent bottlers.

This particular cask is heavily peated spirit that was distilled in 1994, aged in an ex-bourbon barrel, then bottled in 2014 at 53% without coloring or chill filtration.

After it was discounted, I ended up splitting a bottle several ways with Michael Kravitz, Florin, and MAO, who should have their own reviews up at the same time.

Benriach 19 Year 1994/2014 Cask #7187 for K&L

Nose: lots of aromatic oak, cedar, dry malt with a salty edge, peat smoke, tar, fresh hay, berries, caramel. After adding a few drops of water, the berries become bigger and sweeter, but the oak expands to push the peat out of the way.

Taste: barrel sweetness throughout, big berries and stone fruit beginning around the middle and carrying through, rising tide of oak near the back, a bump of malt joins the peat that begins just before the finish. After dilution, the wood becomes more dominant and sweeter - pushing out a lot of the other character, some caramel comes out around the middle, while the oak is more tannic at the back.

Finish: oak, salty malt, lingering peat, seashore, marsh, hints of berries

This is a cask that I suspect was sold on partially due to the fact that it's right on the edge of being over-oaked. While less tannic than many other peated Benriachs I've tried, the wood is very present and almost overwhelms the other elements, especially on the nose. If you've tried Curiositas before I think the structure of this whisky will be familiar, though age has amped up the oak while reducing the peat. It's also hotter at 53% than I would have expected. Dilution softens it a bit, but reduces its complexity even further. Surprisingly for all the wood, there don't seem to be a lot of the other extractives one would expect from this kind of cask - the lack of vanilla keeps the overall experience somewhat sharp.

Ultimately, this one doesn't quite click for me. I like the elements, but not their balance. I far prefer the OB Septendecim - which I'll review later this week - which has more peat character despite the lower strength and has far better balance, while running at roughly half the price of what this single cask was going for originally. At $150, I expect a lot more nuance and complexity than this cask has to offer. Slightly further afield, the Chieftain's Bunnahabhain 16 Year that was picked for K&L rested on a similar foundation of peat and oak, but pulled off a kind of bombast that this Benriach doesn't manage. Ultimately it's irrelevant as both the Benriach and Bunnahabhain single casks have sold out after being reduced in price, but this has made me more skeptical of the value proposition represented by Benriach's single casks.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Whisky Review: Faultline Blend

While it's become increasingly common for stores to offer exclusive cask picks, very few have gone so far as to construct their own blends. It's both more technically challenging, as flavors need to be balanced while being conscious of the price of the components, and riskier as it requires buying much more whisky than the several hundred bottles that a single cask usually produces. However the folks at K&L Wines decided to take the plunge and release a blend under their Faultline label.

This whisky is bottled at a solid 50%, without coloring and probably without chill filtration given the proof.

I got this as part of a split with Michael Kravitz and MAO, who should have their own reviews up at the same time.

Faultline Blended Whisky

Nose: mossy/vegetal peat, a little seaweed, ginger snaps, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, light grain and malt, bourbon cask berries and oak, vanilla. After adding a few drops of water, the peat becomes smokier and joins up with the oak to give an incense note.

Taste: basic malt and grain sweetness coupled with light berries and mild oak tannins throughout, peat pops out around the middle and rides on top while some sherry and chocolate plus more oak and berries emerge around the back. After dilution, the sherry spreads across the palate and gives it a thicker feel, while the peat retreats and integrates with the sherry and oak.

Finish: peat, oak, berry, chocolate, and malt/grain residue,

I have to hand it to the Davids, this is a rather well-constructed blended whisky at an eminently affordable price point. With that said, it only hit that point after I'd had the sample open for a number of months - when I first cracked the cap it was almost all young Ledaig assaulting my senses, which was rather overwhelming. With time the peat has settled down and integrated, providing a more pleasant experience overall. Now it's somewhere in the ballpark of Springbank, Highland Park, or Talisker. Speaking of which, adding a little bit of extra malt can really smooth it out - I particularly enjoyed adding a touch of Highland Park 15 Year, which amped up the sherry character and provided a bridge to the noisier Ledaig peat.

The closest comparable blend I can think of is Isle of Skye 8 Year, which packs a similar amount of peat at a similar price point, but at a reduced proof. All said and done, I think I would give a bit of an edge to the Faultline, simply because of the higher alcohol content letting it stretch further. I'll probably throw in a bottle the next time I order from K&L. For $25 it's hard to go far wrong as long as you enjoy some peat in your whisky.